America's Best Tater Tots

Credit: P.J. Clarke'sCredit: P.J. Clarke'sThere's something magical about the humble Tater Tot. Some might even argue that it's the perfect food: bite-size, salty, crispy, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, greasy but not overly oily, and a great vessel for just about any topping. Its abundant nooks and crannies allow for nearly limitless surface area (aka more crunch) and it boasts a pillowy interior that french fries can only hope to emulate - let's just say there are many reasons why it's one of our favorite childhood foods.

Check out America's Top Tater Tots

"Tater Tot" is actually a registered trademark of Ore-Ida, the company that invented them in 1953. Founders F. Nephi and Golden Grigg (great names) found themselves with an excess of potato scraps after making french fries, and were sick of selling them off for a pittance as animal feed. So they chopped them up, added in some flour and other seasonings, and then sent the whole mess through an extruder and into the deep-fryer. And a legend was born.

Click here to see America's Best French Fries

Tots straight out of the deep-fryer are certainly a wonder to behold (as many a cafeteria worker can attest), but one thing that makes tots great is their versatility. They can be eaten plain, sure, but why not top them with, say, pulled pork? In today's no-holds-barred, the-fattier-the-better foodiverse, tots have taken off, most likely because not only does the humble processed spud serve as a great vessel for all types of toppings, it also takes us back to a simpler time, when all we needed to be happy was something deep-fried and delicious (come to think of it, that still applies).

Click here to see the Ultimate Homemade Tater Tots Recipe

Recently, tots have been making their way onto menus, and in a big way. Plenty of bars and restaurants are topping their tots with some unbelievable stuff, and even high-end places like Bar Boulud in New York City and The Aviary in Chicago offer highbrow versions of this lowbrow treat.

We've tracked down the best tots in the country, from pub grub utopia to fine dining whimsy, and ranked them accordingly. While some are made in-house, others are simply fried to perfection and topped with something great. The main criteria? All these tots hit that spot that only the perfect tot can hit.

So loosen your belt, and read on for our list of the country's top tots.

Credit: The Tot Cart The Tot Cart, Philadelphia
Roaming the campus of Temple University is The Tot Cart, possibly the most awesome thing that can appear after a night of heavy drinking. A proprietary cheese sauce (called, what else, Drunk Cheese) is the preferred topping, but wing sauce and blue cheese, Old Bay, and garlic and Parmesan are also offered, along with a rotating list of specials.

Skylark, Chicago
Credit: flickr/ no22aThis dark, divey bar opened in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood in 2003, and quickly earned a reputation as one of the city's top destinations for fried food. Their fried chicken breast sandwich is stellar, as is their fried cod sandwich, and ask anyone who's ever been there and they'll tell you that the menu's real standout is the tots. These arent house-made or smothered in macaroni and cheese or pulled pork; theyre simply the Platonic ideal of what a tot should be, and cost only $3.50. Perfectly crispy, not too greasy, piled high, and served alongside honey mustard, ranch, and barbecue sauce, these tots are groan-inducingly good, even when eaten "naked."

Credit: Pork SlopePork Slope, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Chef Dale Talde is a creative wizard in the kitchen, as anyone who's seen him on Top Chef or eaten at his eponymous Brooklyn restaurant will know. But he decided to go lowbrow with his second restaurant endeavor, to great effect. The tots at his Park Slope "roadhouse," Pork Slope, are fried to perfection and topped with smoky pulled pork, brisket, chili, brisket, an egg, cheese, bacon, or any combination of the above. Bacon, egg, and cheese tots for breakfast? Why not!

Credit: Ali RosenBar Boulud, New York City
Once you get into fine-dining, house-made territory, the tot game changes. No more gimmicks, just epicurean artwork. And if it's listed on the menu in French, then more power to it. The Croquettes de Porc et Pommes de Terre at chef Daniel Boulud's famed Bar Boulud are little bites of porky, potato-y goodness. Whereas most tots are held together by flour or potato starch, these ones use gelatin from rendered-down pigs' ears, lending the tot a sublimely porky intensity. Served with caramelized onions and spicy ketchup, these tots hit all the right notes, and are well-worth the $14 price tag.

Credit: P.J. Clarke'sCredit: P.J. Clarke'sP.J. Clarke's, Various Locations
This ancient Midtown Manhattan bar spawned five other locations across the country and even down into Brazil, and their burgers and fries helped to put them on the map. A lesser-known star menu item, though, is their tater tots, made in-house. These aren't just gussied-up croquettes, either; they're the real deal. Some Parmesan cheese is added to the mix, and they're given a dusting of Parm and parsley before being brought to the table alongside smoky tomato ketchup. Who needs fries when these are an option?

Credit: Flickr/ Renee SThe Aviary, Chicago
If you know Grant Achatz, of Alinea fame, you know that he's nothing short of a food genius. At his cocktail bar, called The Aviary, he gives cocktails and bar food the Alinea treatment, and the results are nothing short of mind-blowing. The simple Moscow Mule, for example, becomes an extravaganza of ginger lime snow, pickled lime zest, thinly sliced chiles, and a sidecar of shiso vodka, and chips and guacamole become tubes of pressed cornmeal, topped with a dollop of sour cream and chile and filled with avocado cream. So what does Achatz have up his sleeve for tater tots? Listed on the menu as simply "Potato," these are square morsels of potato utopia, infused with malt vinegar and topped with chopped chives. The science behind this tot is still a mystery (and believe us, theres some real science at work here) but the result is creamy, super-crunchy, fried potato heaven.

Credit: The NookThe Nook, Atlanta
The Nook's claim to fame is its Bloody Best, a 32-ounce Bloody Mary loaded with pepperoncini, jalapeos, a hard-boiled egg, toast, steak, and, yes, tater tots. This meal in a glass isnt the only place that tots make an appearance, though; there are five individual varieties of "Totchos" on their menu, including Mac Daddy Totchos (mac and cheese and beef chili), Buffalo Chicken Totchos (chicken, Buffalo sauce, blue cheese, and scallions), and Redneck Totchos (smoked pork, Coke barbecue sauce, jalapeos, and cheese sauce). And these aren't just skimpy toppings; the tots are completely smothered, and the results are far from gimmicky; these creations are undoubtedly delicious.

If you're feeling particularly insane, you can order any of these "Macho"-style, meaning that your order will weigh about 5 pounds. Finish the whole thing and your photo goes up on their Wall of Fame, but if youd prefer to eat your 5 pounds of Loaded PoTotchos in the privacy of your own home, they'll also deliver it anywhere in the country. This place is certifiably nuts.

Click to see More of America's Top Tater Tots

- Dan Myers, The Daily Meal

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